Sunday will see rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts make his anticipated NFL debut, and it will come against the hardest of teams, The New Orleans Saints. Sunday's opponents are looking to win their tenth straight game having started the season 1-2, and have the NFL's best-ranked defense. It will be no mean feat for Hurts, and he will be the fourth different Eagles quarterback to start against the Saints over the last four games. The only man to defeat them since 2007 was Sam Bradford. This Sunday will also see one of the unlikeliest quarterback matchups of the season as Hurts takes on Taysom Hill.
The Season so Far:
New Orleans had a difficult start to the season facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers in their opening three games. They began the season 1-2, and their only win was against the pre-season hype team in the Bucs on the opening weekend. After that they gave up 71 points across the two defeats against the Las Vegas Raiders and Green Bay Packers; it raised concern. Notoriously, New Orleans was viewed as one of the more dominant teams on defense in the NFL, and with Drew Brees struggling to air out the ball, the doubters were starting to look correct.
However, that did not last very long. Since that embarrassing two-game stretch, the Saints are on a nine-game win streak and for the most part, have looked untouchable. They defeated the Detroit Lions, LA Chargers, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears in one-score games, before having their statement win of the season against the Bucs. They forced Tom Brady to have one of the worst days of his career with zero touchdowns and three interceptions as they put a marker down on the rest of the NFC.
The week after that victory Brees suffered 11 broken ribs following the win over the San Francisco 49ers, and it meant it was time for Hill to stamp his mark on the NFL and showcase his abilities. He has gone 3-0 in those three starts, including playing in the weirdest game of the COVID-19 NFL season. With the Denver Broncos being forced to play without a quarterback in their 31-3 win. He will be hoping to keep Sean Payton's record with backup quarterbacks over the last two years perfect against the Eagles.
Their Biggest Threat- The Defense
The Saints defense ranks first in the NFL, and since the games against the Raiders and Packers they have not given up 30+ points. They conceded 29 points to the Lions, but that is as close as a team has gotten to breaking the 30-point mark. They then held the Buccaneers to three points, and have conceded less than 20 points in their last five games. They have incredibly only conceded two touchdowns since their overtime victory over the Bears. Their defense seems unstoppable.
They have given up the least yards in the NFL this season as they have only given up 3466 yards. That is less than 300 yards of offense per game. For a team that has struggled on offense all season, Sunday will be far from a cakewalk.
The Saints defense has talent all over the field and is flanked by star defensive end, Cam Jordan. He will look to cause havoc all night, and with Lane Johnson out, Jack Driscoll is going to have a difficult time trying to contain him. It may stop Doug Pederson from rolling Hurts out to the right-hand side when getting the rookie quarterback on the move. However, on the other side, Trey Hendrickson is no mug. He will line up against Jordan Mailata and leads the Saints in sacks with 10.5 as well as quarterback hits with 19. Rolling Hurts outside of the pocket is going to be a tough task, and ensuring he has time in the pocket will be even more difficult. They have Demario Davis leading the linebacker core, and a secondary with Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins. There is one other man that the Eagles should be afraid of on Sunday, and that is Malcolm Jenkins. After comments on how he felt disrespected after not being re-signed, expect him to look for revenge.
What to Target- Make Taysom Hill throw the ball
To make Hill throw the ball, the Eagles will need their defensive line and linebackers to stand up and stop the run. However, it will be no easy feat. The one-two punch of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray is one of the best in the NFL, plus the Eagles struggle against mobile quarterbacks.
However, if they do manage to pull it off, it will give them a much better chance to win the game. Hill has only ever thrown two touchdowns in his NFL career, and they both came against the Falcons last Sunday. They will need to make him feel uncomfortable inside the pocket and force him to move the ball down the field. Against the Broncos he struggled immensely, throwing for 78 yards and an interception. They only won that game as convincingly as they did because of the defense and Denver's lack of a quarterback. For a quarterback making only his fourth start, Jim Schwartz needs to make life as hard as possible for him. Not leaning upon the run and forcing him to air it out could be what gives the Eagles the best chance to keep this game within an arms reach on Sunday.
Who else to watch out for:
Alvin Kamara- The Saints' best offensive weapon is no mug, and he also has an open disdain for the Eagles, and the Eagles fans probably feel the same way. He made comments about how the Saints would have battered the Eagles had they made the NFC Championship during the famous Super Bowl run. He also came back with similar statements mocking Philly after the heartbreaking playoff defeat the following year. Kamara leads the Saints in rushing and receiving yards; he also leads the team with nine rushing touchdowns and is second to Jared Cook in receiving touchdowns with four. Stopping him on Sunday whether it is in the air or on the ground will be a difficult task.
Kwon Alexander- Alexander has only been on the team for four games having been traded by the 49ers earlier in the season. The 26-year-old linebacker has already made this defense a harder unit to work around as he is another great player that offensive coordinators will need to game plan for and avoid. In the four games Alexander has played in, the Saints defense has looked very impressive. He is a great complimentary piece to Demario Davis, who demands a lot of attention when game planning. Pitting the two of them in the same lineup has made both linebackers much harder to prepare for and play against.